Repatriation process of Afghan refugees is not encouraging: FOAC

Pakistani officials have told an international conference on Afghanistan that the repatriation process of Afghan refugees is not encouraging as it is decreasing with each passing year.

Foreign Office Additional Secretary Muhammad Aejaz informed the Geneva Ministerial Conference that in 2018 only around 27,000 Afghans residing in Pakistan returned to their country.

In 2016, at least 606,905 registered and undocumented refugees repatriated back to Afghanistan from Pakistan, according to figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In 2017 around 60,000 registered and 100,000 undocumented refugees returned from Pakistan.

Aejaz pointed out that enhancement of repatriation grant from $200 to $400 was instrumental in motivating large number of voluntary repatriations in 2016. “This option should be reconsidered by UNHCR and international community must strengthen UNHCR’s financial capacity to raise the repatriation grant to $400 or more,” he said. “I would also like to highlight a catch 22-situation for Pakistan: despite voluntary repatriation, population of refugees and other Afghans in Pakistan has risen due to high birth-rate among them,” he added.

Despite the voluntary return of 4.4 million Afghan refugees since 2002, Pakistan continues to host millions of Afghans. “On average, at any given point in time, Pakistan has hosted 3 million Afghans throughout the last four decades – the largest protracted presence of refugees anywhere on record,” Aejaz said. Giving an update, he said over 2.8 million Afghans are still residing in Pakistan. “They include 1.4 million registered, 879,000 recently documented illegally residing Afghans, and another approximately half a million undocumented Afghans,” he added.

“While this protracted refugee situation has presented Pakistan and its people with a range of inter-related challenges, including security and socio-economic pressures on the over-strained public service delivery systems, yet our humanitarian commitment to help our Afghan brethren has not wavered,” he said, and insisted that returning refugees are vital to foster nation building and reconstruction of their country. “However, suitable conditions must be created to allow their voluntary return in safety and dignity and facilitate successful reintegration in the Afghan society.”

“In this regard, we are encouraged to know that Afghan government is allocating dedicated budgets to various ministries to facilitate resettlement and reintegration of returning refugees. We would also urge international community to contribute more resources towards this end,” Aejaz maintained.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have established a bilateral working group on refugee returns and reintegration within the framework of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan on Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS). Both countries are now working on a dignified, time-bound and complete return of all Afghans to their homeland.

In September the federal cabinet extended stay of the registered Afghan refugees until June 2019.

The Pakistani foreign ministry official told the delegates of the Geneva conference that efficient and effective management of Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan is critical in avoiding this process to become a revolving gate. “Measures for proper documentation at entry/exit points and blocking unregulated movements are equally important. We look forward to support of the international community and cooperation in our efforts for placing better controls at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border,” Aejaz said.